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Style & Culture | RECALL MADNESS

Candidate gets sacked

August 15, 2003|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

The Terminator should consider himself one lucky cyborg. His most formidable opponent just got booted from the recall race by California election officials.

We're referring, of course, to Terry Tate, Office Linebacker. Tate, the Humvee-sized corporate cop who chases down and tackles goof-off employees in a series of popular TV ads for Reebok shoes, is the fictional alter ego of actor Lester Speight.

Last weekend, Speight plunked down $3,500 to enter California's recall free-for-all as "Lester Terry Tate Speight" of Santa Monica.

In his role as office linebacker, Speight/Tate wears a red football jersey and patrols the cubicles of the fictional Felcher & Sons, body-slamming employees for stealing food from the fridge, playing computer solitaire or forgetting a cover sheet on a report.

In his role as politician, Tate had promised to inflict his Mussolini management style on Sacramento. "I'm gonna govern the (expletive) out of this state," he writes on his Web site at www.terrytate.reebok.com.

In an interview at Mel's Drive-in diner in Hollywood -- before learning he officially was out of the race -- the 6-foot-6-inch, 315-pound former pro football player and wrestler elaborated on his take-no-prisoners approach to the gubernatorial race.

"If Gary Coleman gets in my way, I'm gonna punt him like a football -- 65 yards with an eight-second hang time," he said.

Tate also dismissed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante ("Cruz has been on cruise control too long; it's time for Terry Tate to take the wheel"); English-impaired dowager Arianna Huffington ("Long live Zsa Zsa Gabor"); alleged Gov. Gray Davis ("Obviously, he stepped out of bounds; it's time to send him back to the locker room"); and comedian Don Novello, best known for playing "Saturday Night Live's" chain-smoking clergyman, Father Guido Sarducci.

"Terry respects religion, but if he caught Father Guido smoking in a restaurant, Terry would probably put the cigarette out in a way that Father Guido has never had it put out before." (Novello's candidacy also was decertified.)

Tate's platform called for outlawing long coffee breaks: "Five minutes tops, or y'all gonna get clocked."

But not all of his proposals were so practical.

"Terry is up for giving each student in school a birthday party, every teacher an apple and every bus driver a daisy."

When asked how he'd fit governing into that schedule, Tate said, "I'd have Peter Ueberroth handle the birthday parties."

Ueberroth would be wise to follow orders. When Reebok filmed its first Terry Tate ad, some of the stuntmen and actors came away with cracked ribs and sprained ankles, Speight said.

Despite his background in pro wrestling (as Wreak Havoc, Fabulous Flex and Rasta the Voodoo Man), which enabled him to protect his victims to some degree, the hits still were real (he also played defensive end for the United States Football League's Baltimore Stars).

Would Terry Tate have delivered similar punishment to his gubernatorial rivals in a candidate debate? Not likely, he said. "A tackle from Terry Tate is a privilege, an honor. With that tackle comes wisdom. It's called tough love."

However, he did want to arm-wrestle Arnold Schwarzenegger on the steps of the state Capitol. "It's the Terminator versus the Pain Train," Tate said. "Terry Tate is a force of nature."

After noting that Schwarzenegger is 100 pounds lighter and several inches shorter, Speight added: "Terry Tate would pack Arnold up in an itty-bitty Terminator box, then call UPS and have him shipped out of here as fast as you can say hasta la vista."

The Terry Tate Office Linebacker character was born in summer 2000, not as a commercial but as a short film by USC grad Rawson Thurber. The mini-flick was picked up by a talent firm called Hypnotic and reconfigured into a TV spot. After debuting during this year's Super Bowl, the character grew into a pop-culture phenomenon.

Tate has appeared on NBC's "Today" (where he speared weatherman Al Roker for slacking off), rung the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and snipped the starting ribbon at the Boston Marathon.

"I feel like I'm Forrest Gump," Speight said of his newfound celebrity. "I'm in places I have no business being."

Meanwhile, Reebok's Web site, which features five Tate films, has logged hundreds of thousands of hits.

Outside Mel's, the actor was recognized and cheered by passersby even without his trademark red jersey. "Terry Tate, wooo!" one shouted, mimicking the character's signature post-tackle scream.

Entering the governor's race seemed only natural.

"My manager got the idea last Thursday. We took it to Reebok and they loved it," he said. "The next night, I was in Santa Monica on the Third Street Promenade, collecting signatures."

However, the bid was short-lived. At Tate for Governor HQ in Canton, Mass. (Reebok's main office), spokeswoman Denise Kaigler said the foray was intended as a "humorous diversion" from the "very stressful situation unfolding in California.... Even though the campaign is now over, it is our hope that 'Terry' was able to relieve at least some of that stress."

Maybe it's for the best. If Tate had been elected, his meal expenses alone would have doubled the state budget deficit.

At Mel's diner, Tate devoured 14 eggs (seven scrambled, seven over easy), four slices of French toast, side orders of bacon and sausage, several glasses of lemonade and a plate of fruit with cottage cheese. Total bill: $55, plus tip.

The actor said he's been eating 14 eggs a day, every day, for the last 10 years. "That's 51,000 eggs," he noted. "That's more than some small countries."

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